If you're smart you'll eat it.

If you're smart you'll eat it.

Broccoli is seriously good for you. You already knew that. But we'd wager you didn't know just how amazingly, fantastically good for you this little green vegetable is. Why, it's a miracle in a floret.

A new piece of research has uncovered hitherto unknown benefits of broccoli. Researchers at the University of East Anglia have just published a study showing that a diet rich in broccoli could help to prevent or slow down osteoarthritis, a painful degenerative disease that affects the hands, knees, hips and spine, often necessitating joint replacements. Given that osteoarthritis currently affects over 8.5 million people in the UK, which is estimated to cost the NHS over 5.2 billion pounds a year in knee and hip replacements and other treatments, any form of treatment or prevention is of interest to medics and the general public alike.

It's all about a compound called sulforaphane which is released when we eat cruciferous vegetables (that's the cabbage family to you and me) such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage, and which is present in particularly high levels in broccoli. Previous research has identified the anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties of sulforaphane. The UEA team fed sulforaphane to mice and also investigated its effects on human and cow cartilage tissue cells and found that the compound also blocks the enzymes that lead to joint destruction in osteoarthritis. Results are significant enough that further studies are being planned, including a small-scale trial in which patients awaiting knee surgery to treat osteoarthritis will be given “super broccoli” that has been bred to contain particularly high levels of sulforaphane.

Five more reasons to eat broccoli

If that isn't enough to get you munching, here are more amazing health facts about this star of the brassica family:

  • Cancer prevention: This is all about our friend sulforaphane again, which in this context has been shown to fight a bacterium called H.pylori which is implicated in many gastric cancers. Broccoli also contains the powerful antioxidant indole-3-carbinol, which seems to be effective in fighting breast, cervical and prostate cancer.
  • Cholesterol: Broccoli is packed with soluble fibre, which can help to lower cholesterol levels. And lower cholesterol levels = lower risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • Allergies and inflammation: Broccoli contains kaempferol and isothyocyanates and even some Omega-3 oils, all of which have anti-inflammatory properties. That makes them useful in fighting a wide range of lifestyle-related illnesses. For example, in the context of heart disease, these compounds help to prevent or even reverse damage to blood vessels caused by inflammation.
  • MORE anti-oxidants: Broccoli contains more vitamin C than any other cruciferous vegetable, not to mention the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene, all of which are useful in fighting a wide range of diseases and slowing down the ageing process.
  • Weight control: Broccoli is high in fibre, which helps digestion, contributes to the maintenance of stable blood sugar levels and has been shown to curb overeating. A cup of broccoli contains as much protein as a cup of rice, but with half the calories.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Broccoli also protects your skin from sun damage, acts as a detox cure for the whole body (particularly the liver), improves eye health, makes your bones stronger, supports the functioning of your nervous system and has been proved to make you more attractive to the opposite sex. Oh, okay, we made that last bit up. But really, it's amazing this stuff isn't actually being prescribed by GPs across the country.

Tips for eating broccoli

The best way of preparing broccoli in order to maximise its health benefits is light steaming. Try:

  • adding it to soups and stews;
  • eating it plain with a dipping sauce as a healthy snack or starter;
  • chopping it and add it to pasta or rice for a salad;
  • making the classical Italian dish of pasta with steamed broccoli, pine nuts and olive oil;
  • adding florets to omelettes; or
  • stir-frying it with other vegetables, meat or seafood (Although steaming is the best way to preserve the nutrients in broccoli, stir-frying it briefly is almost as good, especially if it stops you getting so bored of the steamed stuff that you stop eating it!)

And how much should you be eating? Even just one handful of broccoli a day (the amount that the patients in the UEA study will be asked to consume) could confer significant health benefits. That's really not too hard, especially when you consider that you could consume that in two large portions just twice a week...

So many super foods are expensive or difficult to source. With this one, there really is no excuse... Get munching!




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